When Deji Bryce Olukotun wrote Nigerians in Space, he thought he was creating a work of fiction about a U.S.-trained Nigerian scientist who works for NASA before returning to his own country to start a space program. And then he met the real-life counterpart of his main character.


Not all of the events in Nigerians in Space came true — including the abalone smuggler, and the pirates — but the stuff about a former NASA engineer returning to Nigeria to work on a Nigerian space program did. And so did the stuff about the program falling short of expectations due to limited resources and other problems.

Over at Slate, Olukotun writes:

In my novel, my main character was a Nigerian émigré who had received his Ph.D. in lunar geology and then worked for NASA. In reality, Agboola received his Ph.D. in engineering from an American university and then worked for NASA. He was then invited to lead engineering for the nascent space agency in Nigeria—and what he discovered when he arrived was not how the program had been pitched to him. There was something absolutely terrifying about meeting in real life a person whom I thought I made up....

What I learned from my meeting with Agboola is that it does not feel good to predict human failings and for them to turn out to be true, especially when there are people striving so hard to overcome these failings and to create a better world for their fellow citizens. Here was a man daring to dream, and in my fiction I had snuffed out that dream. This in a country currently wracked by the militant Islamic group Boko Haram and the dreaded Ebola virus. There is little courage in presaging that things will turn out for the worse.


The whole thing is well worth reading.